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Fact Checker: the Dan Sullivan ad accusing Al Gross of getting “caught on tape”

Fact Checker evaluates the accuracy and truthfulness of campaign ads.
Fact checker, an ongoing segment, evaluates the accuracy and truthfulness of political...
Fact checker, an ongoing segment, evaluates the accuracy and truthfulness of political advertising.(Colin Lamar / KTUU | Colin Lamar / KTUU)
Published: Oct. 31, 2020 at 5:22 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tens of millions of dollars have poured into Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Dan Sullivan, a Republican, hopes to fend off Independent challenger Al Gross.

“Al Gross, caught on tape with outside millionaire donors, admitting he’s a liberal...” opens a recent television attack ad put out by Dan Sullivan for Alaska campaign.

Fact checker rates this as misleading, due the larger context of “caught on tape” claims affecting the race. Sullivan has had to mitigate damage by surreptitiously recorded conversations, now released, between Pebble Mine executives and would-be investors. In the recordings, the executives claim Sullivan is intentionally staying quiet about his stance on the mine to get through the election. Since the recordings were released, Sullivan has firmly stated he opposes the mine.

However, the caught on tape conversations from the Pebble Mine are a different situation than the supposed gotcha the anti-Al Gross ad would have voters believe.

The Sullivan campaign told Alaska’s News Source the clips come from a virtual happy hour, held over Zoom, during the Democratic National Convention in August. Alaska Democrats co-hosted the event.

The ad shows Gross saying “I will caucus with the Democrats. Most of my values are to the left.”

The clip comes from a section of the conversation in which Gross is talking about his roots in Alaska, his commitment to healthcare, and the national issues that have become of increasing importance to the state. More fully, his quote is: “I will caucus with the Democrats. I’ve been an Independent since I was 18. But if you look at my platform you will see that most of my values are to the left, and I’ve met with leadership in the Senate and they are very understanding that my best pathway to win is to remain as an Independent.”

How moderate or liberal Gross may be is a big issue in the race. Although he is running as an Independent, Gross will appear on the ballot as the Democratic nominee.

During Debate for the State, co-hosted by Alaska’s News Source and Alaska Public Media, anchor Mike Ross, referencing Gross’s willingness to caucus with the Democrats, asked “Why should Alaskans believe that you are an independent and not really a Democrat?”

“I’m just an Alaskan. I’m beholden to Alaskans and that quote was taken out of context. I said some of my values are to the left and some of my values are to the right, and that’s true," Gross answered.

For Gross, the hurdle is convincing Alaskans that he’s no National Democrat, something he also addressed during the debate.

“I believe in a strong and enforceable immigration policy with secure borders. I’m not about to take away anybody’s guns or ban anybody’s weapons,” Gross said.

But Gross’s stances on the environment and energy are something the Sullivan campaign wants voters to believe will damage the state, summed up by the narrator in the television ad: “...so far left, Gross would help pass the anti-Alaska Green New Deal, banning energy development on federal lands, destroying thousands of Alaska jobs.”

Gross supports development in the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge, and supports renewable energy.

“My opponent keeps saying I’m in favor of the Green New Deal, but I’ve never said that. Ever,” Gross said during the debate.

As for the willingness to caucus with Democrats, Gross says, it’s a necessity to deal with a broken healthcare system.

“I’m an independent, I’m not beholden to the Democrat Party and I’m doing to caucus with the Democrats because the Republicans have completely failed when it comes to healthcare,” Gross stated during the debate.

The attack ends with “Gross is with the DC Liberals, not Alaska.”

During a post-debate analysis, Andrew Halcro, a business owner and registered Republican, observed “everything pivots to healthcare, right? Pebble Mine, no Pebble Mine, but the need for a good workforce with affordable healthcare. Good education, good healthcare. Good jobs need good healthcare.”

Both candidates have warned that Alaskans will be harmed if the others' healthcare policies prevail.

“The Democrats that you will empower want more government control, want socialized healthcare,” Sullivan said during the debate. while Gross pledged he would “be the doctor that gets the public option across the finish line.”

Critics of Gross accuse him of flipping positions, since in 2017 he wrote in the Anchorage Daily News that “single-payer is the way to go...,” a reference to the healthcare plan he advocated at the time.

Fact Checker is an ongoing segment.

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